Airbus Commercial Aircraft president Fabrice Brégier is very optimistic about the state of the global airliner market and the prospects it offers the company. “The market is still very active; the growth is, in China . . . still more than 10% year-on-year – in such a big market, we are having 1 500 Airbus aircraft flying every day in China,” he said in an interview on Airbus’s own YouTube channel, posted on January 15. “So the potential is there. It’s up to our competitiveness, our commercial [aggressiveness] and also our industrial performance.”
Last year was very successful for the company. “[W]e are again leading the sales competition against Boeing,” he highlighted. In terms of units (aircraft), the European manufacturer won 55% of total global airliner orders (excluding regional airliners, a segment in which neither Airbus nor Boeing participates), while US group Boeing won 45%. In terms of value, Airbus secured 51% of the market and Boeing 49%.
“What makes the difference is the single-aisle market and we could see huge demand, which was confirmed, and the talent of [COO] John [Leahy] and his team was to grab that at the very end of the year, because many deals were closed at the end of December,” pointed out Brégier. “The challenge for us was to deliver more than 700 [aircraft] and, if possible, 720 . . . by the end of 2017, and I can tell you that it was a hell of a challenge. And I’m very pleased that the teams delivered 718 aircraft.”
In the single-aisle category, in terms of units in 2017, Airbus’s A320 family won 59% of orders and Boeing’s 737 models secured 49%. However, with regard to wide-body aircraft, the Airbus A330 and A350 families achieved 25% of total orders, whereas Boeing’s 767, 777 and 787 accounted for the remaining 75%. But, Leahy observed during the recent Airbus Orders and Deliveries 2017 press conference, one year does not make a trend – Airbus has won 50% of net wide-body airliner orders over the past ten years (if wide-body freighters are included, this declines to 47%).
“[W]e continue the ramp-up of the A350, which was very well managed in 2017 – 78 aircraft delivered, so [that’s a] tick in the box, and we will achieve Rate 10 (producing ten aircraft a month) before the end of 2018,” reported Brégier in his interview. After a “challenging” 2016, which was a “troublesome year” for the A350, last year saw the successful industrial ramp-up of the programme, “which is well on track”, he noted during the press conference. “This programme, I think, is the most successful ever ramp-up in the aerospace industry.”
The company’s biggest challenge in 2017 was the A320 new engine option (neo) programme, which was significantly delayed by problems at the manufacturers of the new engines, Pratt & Whitney and CFM International – in particular, technical problems experienced by the Pratt & Whitney powerplant. At one point last year, 60 A320neo airliners were standing engineless on the tarmac at Toulouse and Hamburg. By the end of the year, close to 30 of these “gliders”, as Airbus called them, were still awaiting their power plants.
As a result, Airbus had to reduce the number of A320neos it delivered last year, although it still managed to hand over 181 to customers, not far short of its minimum target of 200 for the year. Neos accounted for about 33% of all A320 family airliners delivered, with the conventionally engined option (ceo) models representing 66%.
“[he year] 2018 will see a bigger ramp-up of our deliveries,” assured Brégier at the press conference. “There is a small caveat, which is that we will get the neo engines according to the [manufacturers’] commitments. I am much more confident on this one.”
Pratt & Whitney has made two technical fixes to its engine, while CFM International reacted rapidly to the problems it encountered. Brégier was confident both would deliver this year, and that, if they did so, his company would “more than double the number of neos” delivered, inverting last year’s ratio to 66% neos and 33% ceos. “These are the plans.”
The market for very large aircraft – the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747-8 (and the 747-8F freighter) – is difficult at the moment. Neither type won any new orders last year; each saw the cancellation of two units previously ordered. “With the A380, we have a commercial challenge,” stated Brégier during the press conference. Production is being ramped down; 15 A380s were delivered last year. “We’ll deliver 12 aircraft as planned in 2018 and I can confirm today (January 15) that we can have an industrially robust process to deliver down to six aircraft a year.”
Nevertheless, Leahy was still optimistic about the future of the A380, owing to increasing congestion at major airports, which can only be addressed by using larger aircraft. “The A380 . . . this is an airplane, I assure you, whose time will come.”